US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday tried to deflect criticism from Congress on Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, as new intelligence estimates warned that al-Qaida could soon again use Afghan soil to plot attacks on the United States.
Blinken had mixed results in attempting to face down a second day of tough congressional questioning, this time from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a day earlier before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he was assailed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike over the administration’s preparation for and handling of the pullout.
Even lawmakers sympathetic to President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest-running war by withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years expressed disappointment and concern about the large number of Americans, green card holders and at-risk Afghans left behind in the chaotic and hasty evacuation from Kabul.
And, as Blinken testified just three days after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, intelligence officials presented a bleak assessment that al-Qaida could begin to use Afghan territory to threaten America within one to two years.
“The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” said committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who has been generally supportive of Biden’s foreign policy but has taken issue with several of its aspects, including Afghanistan.
“This committee expects to receive a full explanation of this administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January,” he said. “There has to be accountability.”
“The withdrawal was a dismal failure,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the committee. He and virtually all of his Republican colleagues accused the administration of “ineptitude” that has cost the United States international credibility, led to a deadly attack on U.S. troops and Afghan civilians at the Kabul airport and left many in the lurch.
“There’s not enough lipstick in the world to put on this pig to make it look any different than what it actually is,” Risch said.
Much as he did on Monday at the often contentious hearing in the House, Blinken tried to deflect the criticism and maintained the administration had done the best it could under extremely trying and chaotic circumstances.
Blinken again blamed the Trump administration for its February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban that he said had tied Biden’s hands, as well as the quick and unexpected collapse of the Afghan government and security forces that led to the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15.